Funnyman Lee Hurst was best known for appearing on the popular TV sports quiz, They Think It's All Over - until he hit the headlines last year after attacking an audience member for recording his routine. SIBA MATTI spoke to him about fighting for his beliefs while managing to retain his sense of humour
MOST comedians would scoff if you suggested they had a serious side, but not Lee Hurst, who has always been determined to stand up for his rights.
The cheeky chappie from Tower Hamlets hit the headlines after he was arrested last year for smashing up an audience member's phone at one of his shows.
Lee, 46, believed his set was being recorded to be uploaded on to the video sharing website YouTube and he was determined to stand up for his fellow funnymen by lambasting those who partake in copyright theft.
"What the whole situation boiled down to was that I don't want my work being broadcast so people have a free rein to steal my ideas," he explains.
"I know that there are comedians who love to see their work online, but I don't and that should be respected.
"I pleaded guilty in the magistrates' court and have never denied what happened. I think they saw my side of the story because I only had to pay £80 in compensation and a £60 fine - but I was told it could have been in excess of £300.
"They could have chosen to make an example of me, but I think they recognised the point I was trying to make. You aren't allowed to record court proceedings on a mobile phone and I think this should apply to a comedy club.
"Musical artists get paid for their creativity and it should be exactly the same for us. It's like having your tools stolen if your material is taken."
Lee, who admires the work of Spike Milligan and Tommy Cooper, is well used to getting on his soap box - he even considered standing against
Ken Livingstone in the 2004 London mayoral elections, to protest about a proposed development that would have seen his Backyard Comedy Club, in Bethnal Green, demolished.
"I set the club up in the late 1990s and it was a real labour of love," he remembers. "The building next door got planning permission to create a block of flats but the ironic thing is, three months before the development was given the go-ahead, all the pavement outside had been redone.
"The whole experience was very frustrating and made more difficult by the fact that my dad died around the same time, but the club is still standing now.
"If I had stood and been elected, I would have abolished the congestion charge and removed all the speed bumps, which I believe cause more problems than good, especially for the emergency services.
"I can only say that the job of mayor definitely requires a sense of humour - and, more importantly, someone who actually has a brain," Lee laughs.
Despite showing the more sombre side of his personality, Lee has specialised in side-splitting humour - although he admits that his jokes have a liberal spoonful of cynicism stirred in.
"I would describe my sense of humour as chaotic and much of my comedy is ad-libbed, as I forget my routine so often," he giggles. "I normally just start talking to the audience and think up material as I go along - it's usually about how ironic life can be.
"I would definitely say I had a cynical side but I'm not sure whether I have always been that way or being a comedian has created that in me - it's a bit of a chicken and egg question," he muses.
Standing up in front of hundreds of people can be nerve-wracking at the best of times but Lee takes it all in his stride, and he is proud of his reputation for never being beaten in a heckling fight.
"If someone in the audience is genuinely trying to be funny, I use psychology and often let them just hang themselves and swing the corpse. I'm never nasty to people but if they try to heckle me, they are going to get heckled back.
"I love the buzz of live stand-up and seeing hundreds of people laughing their heads off - it's a very different format from television comedy."
Lee made his name on They Think It's All Over and spent five years as a panellist on the show, but his hazy memory means he has forgotten much of the fun that went on.
"There is so much pressure for you to perform and say something funny, so I can barely remember much of my time on the show," he admits. "There are times I wish I hadn't worked so hard because you forget to enjoy it and there is so much responsibility, especially at the BBC.
"Sometimes they were quite uptight and our jokes were often edited out."
As for the future, Lee would never rule out a return to television comedy, enjoying running the club and focusing on live stand-up.
"In 2006, I went on a tour of Iraq and Afghanistan and the soldiers out there are the ones doing the real work. I guess I'm just lucky to get paid to do something I love."
* See Lee Hurst at the Comedy Bunker next Thursday (April 2). The show starts at 8.45pm (doors open from 8.15pm).
For more information and to book, log on to www.comedybunker.co.uk or drop in at The Fairway/Ruislip Golf Centre, Ickenham Road, West Ruislip, HA4 7DQ.
Lee's top tips for success in stand-up
* Take your destiny in your own hands - if you want to work in comedy, get scribbling and write down every idea you can think of. Never stop thinking of ways to improve your craft.
* Visit comedy club nights to get inspiration - but obviously not to copy other people! - and see how the industry operates.
* Get as much stage time as you can - apply to small clubs to build up your reputation.
* Don't give up - the industry is competitive but those who make it reap real rewards.
It really is the best job in the world.